BRADENTON -- A large crowd packed into the South Florida Museum courtyard Friday night under a sea of lights. Most swayed to live salsa music, others chatted over drinks. The roughly 300 people in attendance were there for Plaza Cubana PopUp, an event targeting people ages 18-34 -- a group also known as millennials.
It was also the first of a series of eight popup-style events by nonprofit Realize Bradenton through May.
The event is part of the PopUps for a Purpose series, an experiment meant to create vibrancy among millennials in innovative ways.
"Plaza Cubana PopUp is the first PopUp for a Purpose as part of the Knight Cities Challenge and Realize Bradenton, which really reflects the whole Bradenton area," said Realize Bradenton Executive Director Johnette Isham.
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The Knight Cities Challenge is a competition by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, an organization that works to create informed and engaged communities. Realize Bradenton was one of 26 organizations chosen to receive a grant from more than 7,000 applications.
"There are so many wonderful millennials who live, work and play in the Bradenton area -- in Manatee County," Isham said. "We just wanted to bring people together in a unique way around music, food and arts."
Eleni Sokos, whose company Sokos Social was hired to help Realize Bradenton with marketing and communications for the series, moved around quite a bit during the event.
"We want to spark conversation about big topics, not just: 'Where are you? Where do you work? What do you do?' but 'Where do you live? Why do you live there? Who do you live with? How do you get to work everyday? What do you love about downtown Bradenton?'" the 27-year-old said. "So in the future, we'll be looking for more specific questions that we can help the city and the Planning Department. ... help them bring a Bradenton that's more millennial friendly, more younger generation friendly."
Toward the back of the courtyard stood Leah Baer, 31, and her friend, Megan Clausen, 30, both of Bradenton.
"I think it's amazing," Baer said. "I think it's great to have something where our age group can get together and know each other."
Clausen, who just moved to Bradenton from Chicago in August, said she agreed.
"I think it's great to have millennials all come together and meet each other and learn about each other," she said. "It helps foster a sense of community and give people ownership of the town they live in."
Meredith Hector, director of program administration at the Knight Foundation, said at the event her organization has the great pleasure of giving money to great programs and great ideas.
"What we're looking for is people who are passionate about the places they live and who have great ideas for making their cities more successful," Hector said.
She said the Knight Foundation look for ideas in three areas that drive city success: talent, attraction and retention; economic opportunity; and civic engagement.
The evening included dancing, Jumbo Jenga, and an opportunity to be part of a photo project featuring millennials, which will later spring up around downtown Bradenton.
Jana Hameed, 35, and her husband, Cedric Hameed, 36, traveled from Sarasota. Jana said she felt the event's concept of reaching millennials in the area is "much needed."
"I think that there's not enough events going on for people in the millennial age group," she said. "It's good to see people collaborating together, being able to get their thoughts and ideas together. ... and have everyone come in one spot and hopefully enjoy themselves."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.